Enterocolitis remains an important cause of morbidity and mortality in Hirschsprung's disease. The aetiology of enterocolitis is uncertain-ischaemic and bacterial causes and recently, rotavirus infections, have been suggested. Bowel tissue from 12 patients with Hirschsprung's disease who underwent Swenson's operation (five of whom had clinical evidence of enterocolitis) and colon from six controls subjects were examined to investigate possible immunopathological mechanisms associated with the disease. IgA, IgM, and J chain (but not IgG) containing plasma cells were significantly increased in the lamina propria along the entire length of resected bowel in enterocolitis patients, compared with non-enterocolitis patients and controls (p less than 0.01). Luminal secretory component staining of the anganglionic segment of colon from enterocolitis patients was considerably reduced. Lamina propria CD68 positive monocyte/macrophages and CD45RO positive leukocytes were increased in enterocolitis patients compared with non-enterocolitis patients (p less than 0.01). CD57 positive natural killer (NK) cells showed a unique distribution pattern compared with other cell types. Patients with enterocolitis showed a significant increase in CD57 positive NK cells in the lamina propria of ganglionic bowel only (p less than 0.05). NK cell values in ganglionic bowel of non-enterocolitis patients and in aganglionic bowel in all patients were similar to controls. The diversity of altered local immune response seen in this study may reflect a multifactorial microbial aetiology in enterocolitis associated with Hirschsprung's disease.
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